Monday 20 May 2024

Never Touch A Book By Any Author Who Had Not Been Dead At Least 30 Years

Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood, translated by Jay Rubin (London: Vintage, 2003; 1987), p.38; p.39:

   "This man says he has read The Great Gatsby three times," he said as if to himself.
"Well, any friend of Gatsby is a friend of mine."
   And so we became friends. This happened in October.
   The better I got to know Nagasawa, the stranger he seemed. I had met a lot of weird people in my day, but none as strange as Nagasawa. He was a far more voracious reader than me, but he made it a rule never to touch a book by any author who had not been dead at least 30 years. "That's the only kind of book I can trust," he said.
   "It's not that I don't believe in contemporary literature," he added, "but I don't want to waste valuable time reading any book that has not had the baptism of time. Life is too short."
   "That's why I read them. If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. That's the world of hicks and slobs. Real people would be ashamed of themselves doing that. Haven't you noticed, Watanabe? You and I are the only real ones in this dorm. The other guys are crap."

Female Platycnemis Phyllopoda

Female Platycnemis phyllopoda (叶足扇蟌).

The female of the species is decided less 'leaf-footed' than the male, though she is more striking with her black and pinkish yellow colouring.

Female Platycnemis Phyllopoda in Changsha


Sunday 19 May 2024


'Whitsun' by Sylvia Plath

This is not what I meant:
Stucco arches, the banked rocks sunning in rows,
Bald eyes or petrified eggs,
Grownups coffined in stockings and jackets,
Lard-pale, sipping the thin
Air like a medicine.
The stopped horse on his chromium pole
Stares through us; his hooves chew the breeze.
Your shirt of crisp linen
Bloats like a spinnaker. Hat brims
Deflect the watery dazzle; the people idle
As if in hospital.
I can smell the salt, all right.
At our feet, the weed-mustachioed sea
Exhibits its glaucous silks,
Bowing and truckling like an old-school oriental.
You're no happier than I about it.
A policeman points out a vacant cliff
Green as a pool table, where cabbage butterflies
Peel off to sea as gulls do,
And we picnic in the death-stench of a hawthorn.
The waves pulse like hearts.
Beached under the spumy blooms, we lie
Sea-sick and fever-dry.

Male Platycnemis Phyllopoda

Male Platycnemis phyllopoda (叶足扇蟌).

My favourite local damselfly: the 'leaf-footed' or 'phyllopoda', a Greek word that also denotes an (unrelated) group of crustaceans. In flight its leafy white feet flutter like tiny paper wind spinners.

Platycnemis phyllopoda in Changsha

Saturday 18 May 2024


Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001), p. 479:

The less amiable sides of Lindemann’s character were shielded at Chartwell, but were often on full display in Oxford. His professorial fellowship was in Wadham, but he thought that Christ Church was more suitable to his status, and contrived to live there for nearly forty years. He was a notable but cantankerous member of the common room. When he stood as an independent Conservative candidate (his views on issues other than the menace of Nazism were well to the right of Churchill’s) at a 1937 bye-election for one of the University seats he was heavily defeated. He was taken into Whitehall by Churchill in 1939, and was made a peer by him in 1941, assuming the grandly riparian name of Cherwell. This led to a mocking piece of Oxford satirical verse, circa 1945, which started: ‘Long, long ago when first the war began, Lord Cherwell was just plain Professor Lindemann’.

Female Oriental Magpie-Robin

Female Oriental Magpie-Robin (Copsychus saularis, 鹊鸲).

A mating pair has been a frequent and chatty presence near my office. Compared to the male birds, the females are always noticeable greyer above and have greyish white feathers below, as one can see here with a not-quite-improper glance.

Female Oriental Magpie-Robin at Yuelu Mountain


Friday 17 May 2024

Cystidia Couaggaria

Cystidia couaggaria (小蜻蜓尺蛾).

All of a sudden, there appeared hundreds of these moths in the bushes and reeds by the Xiang river. Their larva vigorously defoliate the various species of prunus that are popular in Chinese parks, but these adults are less destructive, except, I suppose, by progeneration.

Cystidia couaggaria by the Xiang River

Francesco Filelfo

Francesco Filelfo (1398-1481)
‘Ad Gasparum Mercatum Valentiae Comitem.’

Non venio, Gaspar, nam sudant inguina multo
   aestu, quo testes tres mihi bella movent.

I am not coming, Gaspar, for my groins sweat with so much
   heat that my three testicles make wars against me.

Carlo de’ Rosmini, Vita di Francesco Filelfo da Tolentino, 3 vols (Milan: Presso Luigi Mussi, 1808) I, p. 113. My translation. Filelfo had adopted the Greek nickname ‘τριόρχις’ (‘three testicles’).

Thursday 16 May 2024

Lucidina Vitalisi

Lucidina vitalisi (南华锯角萤).

To me, nothing calls to mind sweat-smelling summer nights like fireflies, though growing up on Vancouver Island I knew them only from books and Calvin and Hobbes comics. They are wonderful creatures and are sadly disappearing from the world.

Lucidina vitalisi on Yuelu Mountain

Vergil and Nature

 Everything that is printed and bound in a book contains some echo at least of the best that is in literature. Indeed, the best books have a use, like sticks and stones, which is above or beside their design, not anticipated in the preface, nor concluded in the appendix. Even Virgil's poetry serves a very different use to me to-day from what it did to his contemporaries. It has often an acquired and accidental value merely, proving that man is still man in the world. It is pleasant to meet with such still lines as,

    “Jam laeto turgent in palmite gemmae;”
     Now the buds swell on the joyful stem.
    “Strata jacent passim sua quaeque sub arbore poma.”
     The apples lie scattered everywhere, each under its tree.

In an ancient and dead language, any recognition of living nature attracts us. These are such sentences as were written while grass grew and water ran. It is no small recommendation when a book will stand the test of mere unobstructed sunshine and daylight.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings (New York: Bantam, 2004), p. 66 [A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, 1849].

Nam tantus philosophus, et Platonis, in quo summa eloquentia summae sapientiae coniuncta est, optimus imitator, P. Vergilii eloquentiam naturae omnium rerum optimae parenti similem esse docet. Nam ut terram hic frugibus arboribusque laetam videmus, ibi pratis floribusque omnia ridere, aliam regionem fontibus irrigari, aliam omnino arescere, esse et loca quae in campos porrigantur, esse et alia quae in montes rupesque consurgant, eosdemque alibi horrendis sylvis vestiri, alibi nudo saxo inhorrescere; sic P. Vergilius stilum suum ad omnes vitae mores integrum traducit, ut nunc brevis nunc copiosus sit, nunc siccum nunc floridum sese ostendat, est praeterea ubi levi fluat agmine, est et cum veluti per confragosa torrens rapidusque praecipitetur.

For that great philosopher [Macrobius], in whom the greatest eloquence is combined with wisdom, is the best imitator of Plato; he teaches that the eloquence of Virgil is akin to the greatest parent of everything of nature. For we see in one place the earth fertile with crops and trees, and in another place, everything rejoices in meadows and flowers. We see another region watered by springs, and another region dried up. We see lands where fields stretch wide, and lands where with rising cliffs and mountains. Elsewhere, we see countries clothed in bristling forests, and countries trembling on barren rock. Though these scenes, Virgil conveys with his vigorous style each manner of life, so that it is now scare, now plentiful; he himself shows what is now desert, and what is now blooming with life, where there is a river flowing in a gentle stream, and where it rushes down over the rough landscape, roaring and rapid.
Cristoforo Landino (1424-1498), Scritti critici e teorici, ed. by Roberto Cardini, 2 vols (Rome: Bulzone, 1974), I, p. 215 [Proemio al commento Virgiliano, 1488]. My translation.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Happiness Can Be Defined All Kinds of Ways

Beauty meant that you were good. And being good meant being happy. Happiness can be defined all kinds of ways, but human beings, consciously or unconsciously, are always pulling for their own version of happiness. Even people who want to die see death as a kind of solace, and view ending their lives as the only way to make it there. Happiness is the base unit of consciousness, our single greatest motivator. Saying “I just want to be happy” trumps any other explanation. But who knows. Maybe Makiko had a more specific reason, not just some vague idea of how to make herself happy.
Mieko Kawakami, Breasts and Eggs: A Novel (2020), p. 43.

Black-Striped Orchard Spider

Black-Striped Orchard Spider (Leucauge celebesiana, 西里银鳞蛛).

Several of these spiders have built their angled webs over a small stream on Yuelu Mountain. Their white abdomens, with their green-tinged black stripes make them look like little melons.

Black-Striped Orchard Spider on Yuelu Mountain

Black-Striped Orchard Spider on Yuelu Mountain

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Memory is not What the Heart Desires

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Rings (London: HarperCollins, 2007; 1954), p. 493:

Memory is not what the heart desires. That is only a mirror, be it clear as Kheled-zâram.

Common Vervain

Common Vervain (Verbena officinalis).

Here seen growing along the Xiang River. A component in folk medicine around the world. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used to treat malaria, joint pain, bruises and other ailments. In medieval and early modern Europe it was associated with magic and fortune-telling.

Common Vervain by the Xiang River